Pope Francis reaches out to indigenous Mexicans

Agence France-Presse

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Pope Francis reaches out to indigenous Mexicans

EPA

The 79-year-old pontiff's visit to the least Catholic state in Mexico comes in the middle of an intense, 5-day trip that he has already used to speak out against crime and corruption

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – Pope Francis heads Monday, February 15, to Mexico’s impoverished southern state of Chiapas to address the plight of migrants and reach out to indigenous communities with a mass in their native languages.

The 79-year-old pontiff’s visit to the least Catholic state in Mexico comes in the middle of an intense, 5-day trip that he has already used to speak out against crime and corruption.

Francis will now turn to poverty and migration during his visit to the cities of San Cristóbal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutierrez.

Lingering tensions over the state’s social problems reemerged last week, when around 100 farmers protested in front of San Cristobal’s cathedral and spray-painted the words “we don’t want the pope, we want justice” on its yellow walls. 

While Mexico is the world’s second most populous Catholic nation after Brazil, with 82% of its population of 122 million identifying with the religion, only 58% are loyal to the Vatican in Chiapas.

But the demonstrators dispersed over the weekend, authorities threw a new coat of paint on the cathedral and the Catholic faithful flocked to the city for the pope’s visit.

The pope will lead a mass in a stadium in San Cristobal, with hymns and readings in three indigenous languages: Ch’ol, Tzotzil and Tzeltal while Tololabal and Zoque people will offer bread and wine.

Francis will make such ceremonies official by issuing a decree allowing indigenous language to be used during Catholic masses.

Such a move will help to “ensure the survival of the Catholic church” in the region, said Father Alejandro Solalinde, a priest known for his migrant and human rights activism in southern Mexico.

Zapatistas, migrants

After the mass, the pope will have lunch with two local bishops and eight indigenous Mexicans.

“I am happy to see the pope,” Dominga Santiz, a Tzeltal catechist who was invited to the meal, said in accented Spanish.

Francis will also visit San Cristobal’s cathedral, where he is expected to visit the tomb of Samuel Ruiz, a bishop who defended the causes of the Mayan people and acted as mediator between the government and the Zapatista guerrilla movement that rose up in 1994.

A family will show him funds that were collected to build two new shelters for migrants in a region that is a gateway for Central Americans who risk their livelihood in a gang-infested journey to the United States.

The first Latin American pope – himself the son of Italians who migrated to Argentina – has staunchly defended migrants.

During a huge mass on Sunday, February 14, in Ecatepec, a Mexico City suburb, he condemned gangs as “merchants of death” and urged Mexicans to build a nation where “there will be no need to emigrate in order to dream.”

But Solalinde said that while the pope has made “migrants his pastoral priority,” his message will “not change the heavy-handed public policy” on migration.

Mexican authorities launched a crackdown on illegal migration along its southern border with Guatemala in 2014 following a crisis of unaccompanied child migrants to the United States.

The streets of Chiapas were buzzing on Sunday in anticipation for the pope’s arrival, with monks and Franciscan friars walking around Tuxtla while marimba tunes filled the air in San Cristobal’s main square.

But not all were in a festive mood.

“We know that the government wants to hide things or make it seem that everything is all right. But we know that this is not true,” said Octavio Gomez, a 45-yer-old Tzeltal. “There are problems: Poverty, marginalization, displaced people.” – Yemeli Ortega, AFP / Rappler.com

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